GUEST BLOGGER - May Challenge: A is for Animal Rescue

Thursday, May 1, 2014



Meet Jennifer Lawson!






As I drove down Route 309 from Philadelphia to Allentown, I peered in my rearview window at Shakira. She was a white pitbull, rather large for a female, and she was looking back at me with an eager look on her eyes, panting with her tongue hanging to the side.

The only dog experience I really ever had was with my own dog, a little senior mutt. I was a new volunteer at the city animal control shelter in Philly, and when I received an email one afternoon looking for
 people to bring shelter dogs to an event at a ballpark in Allentown, I signed up.

A few hours later, the thoughts ringing through my mind were: “I can't believe I'm in charge of this big dog who must weigh more than me” and “Oh my God, I have a pitbull in my car.”

Suited up in her orange ADOPT ME vest, Shakira was a hit at the ball game. She got along well with the four or five other shelter dogs who were there and seemed to revel in the attention, sometimes excitedly jumping up on people. After being confined to a cage for all but maybe one hour per day, at most, I could understand her energy and desire to connect.

On the way back to the city, I stopped at a convenience store for a bottle of water for me and a few pieces of beef jerky for Shakira, who gulped them down in a second flat. She was a good girl.

That was her last outing. The next morning, I checked the shelter's online message boards, which gave volunteers updates on various animals. I froze when I saw Shakira's name on the RIP list – the list of dogs who had been euthanized overnight.

I knew it was a high-kill shelter, with less than half of the dogs and even fewer cats making it out alive at the time, which was in 2008. Despite everyone's' best efforts at getting the animals adopted quickly, the reality was that there were not enough cages for all of the animals who came through the door every day.

Although I would be facing this feeling many more times after a special dog or cat I knew had been euthanized, Shakira was the first, and it made me realize that while it would be difficult to save them all, we can give them love, make them feel special and run and play with them while they're here.

Over the years of volunteering at both animal control and the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, which is a no-kill rescue, I've gotten to know lots of great people who've become friends and plenty of wacky but well-intentioned animal lovers. I've fallen in love with special animals. And as I type this, I look down at my hands and see the scratches I got from a feisty and frightened cat last night while volunteering at the cat adoption center inside the South Philly Petsmart. For the past five years I've been serving as lead volunteer at PAWS satellite adoption centers – something I truly love to do. But sometimes we get a cat that definitely doesn't want to be there.

One thing about animal rescue is that it's never boring. Here are some examples:

- I established and maintained a colony of feral cats in an empty lot behind my house – trapping the cats, taking them to get neutered, releasing them back outside, and feeding them. Occasionally I trapped a possum, which is always sort of scary when you're expecting to see a fluffy kitty in the trap.

- I had feral cats hide in my basement walls on two different occasions, in two different houses, years apart.

- While walking dogs at animal control, the dog I was handling attacked the dog my friend was walking, even though both dogs were categorized as friendly. The victimized dog needed surgery, and that was the last time I worked with dogs at animal control – that incident scared me too much.

- At the height of my cat fostering, I had nine cats in my house – three lived with me, and I was fostering a mom and two nursing kittens plus a set of three rambunctious male kittens. I was single at the time, and now I'm realizing why!

- While I was volunteering at the cat room inside the South Philly Petsmart four years ago, a girl came in with a filthy, sick kitten she found in the parking lot. This kitten grew into a strong, friendly and somewhat annoying cat, who is currently napping a few feet away from me. I named him Lucky and then changed it to Kevin. He answers to both.

- I had two foster kittens die in my care. One died when I was out of town and my friend discovered him in my closet. The other died a few days later  – I found him under my couch when I came home from work. It's a sad fact that sometimes kittens just die with no apparent reason – known as failure to thrive.

- One of the most tragic stories involves a stray cat that was living in a rural area and kept getting pregnant. With the consent of the people who fed her, I brought her home with me to South Philly and made a spay appointment. The plan was to then return her to the rural area, where she seemed to be happy. But the next day, she somehow popped out a window screen and escaped, and my friend spotted her a few hours later in the street. She had been hit by a car. I didn't have the heart to tell the people who had been feeding her that she had died, so I told them a friend fell in love with her and adopted her. I don't think I have ever told anyone this story before – it upsets me too much to think about very often.

- The most rewarding aspects of volunteering is finding the right home for a cat. I'm still in touch with several people who've adopted my fosters, and I get to see them grow up through photos on Instagram and Facebook.

This is especially true of one foster in particular. Almost two years ago, I was laid off from my job. So, what do I do? I go to animal control to pick up a kitten whose right front leg had been amputated that day. He needed foster care, and I figured I would be home at lot, at least for a little while. Might as well do something useful with that time.

A few days later, I met the guy who would become the center of my world, Michael. (Coincidentally, he had adopted a cat from PAWS a year earlier, a solid black female he named Willow.) He introduced me to his sister and her husband, and I mentioned my three-legged foster cat who I had named Cheeto. To my surprise, they were interested in meeting him!

They came over to my house and fell in love with him. The adoption was finalized a few days later.

Cheeto and I met on a day that was kind of crappy for both of us, but within three weeks, both of us lucked out. I had found a new job and he had found a new home. Cheeto's new parents renamed him Captain Ahab and I have the pleasure of visiting him often – the happiest ending of all.



Interested in being a guest blogger for this year's May A-Z Series or know someone you think would be a great addition to this year's posts? Click here to email me asking for more details. Be brave! Take "write a blog" off your bucket list. Share your artwork, write a poem, showcase your photography -- Take Your Pic loves it all!! 

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